It’s hard to believe that spring is just around the corner. Only a few days ago, I looked out my window and found three coyotes huddled together and digging in the snow for some food scraps my husband had dropped the prior evening. As one of the coyotes ate, the other two looked up toward their den, where their kin kept watch on the hill. After they made their way back up to their family, a crow swept in to see what the coyotes had left behind. Nearby, other crows perched on a dead tree and vigilantly took turns with the food. Stella, part of our human-dog family, sat stoically beside me while she meditatively followed their movements. Her only distraction was a raven who flew overhead on her way to join her mate.
Watching the coyotes, crows, ravens, and Stella is a form of meditation for me too. A calm reminder of the beauty and harmony that exists in the world. Of what is possible.
Lately, I’ve been working on another book on the connections between people, animals, and the environment. More than once, I’ve turned to my worn, fading copy of Silent Spring for inspiration. In 1962, two years before her death, biologist and nature writer Rachel Carson published Silent Spring, thoroughly documenting the toxic effects of the insecticide DDT. Within several years, DDT was banned from agricultural use. Through her writing, Carson challenged the idea that humans could master nature through chemicals, bombs, or other forms of destruction. Her work, along with that of environmental justice activists who emerged through the civil rights movement, helped fuel the modern environmental movement.
If you spend any time reading about the environment, you know that there is still so much we need to do to protect the Earth and its earthlings. Human impact has pushed the planet into what scientists now refer to as the Anthropocene, a new geological epoch in which human beings are dramatically affecting the atmosphere, bodies of water, landmass, and other species. Our everyday decisions – including our health choices – wreak havoc on the very planet that we depend on for our health and wellbeing. In turn, climate change and environmental degradation lead to health risks including extreme temperatures and weather patterns, poor air and water quality, food insecurity, and a corresponding rise in instability, violence, and deadly diseases. We are now on the verge of a modern, man-made sixth extinction, in which seventy-five percent of species are expected to go extinct – far worse than what Rachel Carson warned of in Silent Spring.
One might ask if we’re right to have hope. Will time tell, or can we answer now?
It’s been almost one year since my first book, Phoenix Zones, was released. In it, I write about hope as a biological need. Hope can calm us, sooth pain and anxiety, and foster physical and mental wellbeing. It can also lead to incredible social change. But hope is not blind faith immune from reality. Hope builds on knowledge, not only of joy but also of sorrow. It is a brave act in spite of despair.
Although I’m a deeply hopeful person, I prefer to go without rose-colored glasses. Like many activists, I feel compelled to turn toward, rather than away from, vulnerability and suffering, while taking no pleasure from it. Those who fail to acknowledge the struggles and pain of others only further injustice while impeding progress. Turning away is part of the problem, not the solution.
As Carson wrote in Silent Spring,
We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost’s familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road – the one less traveled by – offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the Earth.
Hope, it seems, is taking the right road in a changing spring. We need hope, and we can create hope, but only if we acknowledge the problems before us. As the coyotes and crows seem to know, our destiny will be determined by the very path we travel.